Mirroring the renewed drive in the US to combat polygamy, Nigeria’s Anglican leader has this week told the country’s many Christian polygamists that the time has come to give up their extra wives.
In a letter to the faithful, Archbishop Peter Akinola warned the issue could “make a mockery” of the church. Until now, converts to Christianity have been allowed to keep their polygamous relationships.
Bishop Ali Buba Lamido said that it was difficult to convert polygamous Muslims to Christianity unless they could keep their wives, while Bishop Ali Buba of the Wusasa diocese in northern Kaduna State said 10% of some congregations in the north can be in polygamous marriages.
As with Sudan, Nigeria is deeply divided between the mostly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian and animist south.
The archbishop’s letter comes ahead of the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops in July. Even though a significant proportion of its population is not Christian, Africa’s most populous country’s sheer size means that Nigeria is a major power in the Anglican church. With 17.5 million members, the Nigerian Anglican Church is the second largest in the communion.
“Those of us who are in the forefront of the prophetic call for a return to Biblical truth cannot close our eyes to the increasingly blatant disregard for the teaching of the Bible on family life,” wrote the archbishop. “The observation will destroy our witness if not firmly addressed. We cannot claim to be a Bible-believing church yet be selective in our obedience.”
Bishop Lamido said polygamous converts are prevented from taking leadership positions in the church until they accept monogamy. If they do separate, the women usually give up their children to the care of their ex-husbands.
“These women remain in the church and can remarry, but mostly decide to remain single. It is often difficult for them to restart family life,” he said.
Archbishop Akinola has led opposition by some European and American Anglicans to the ordaining of gay priests.
Critics of that stance have suggested that the archbishop’s letter may be an attempt to head off criticism about “unscriptural practices” in his own backyard.